Latvia in line to buy four Black Hawk helicopters

Latvia could soon have UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters of its own after being approved by the United States as a potential purchaser.

"The State Department has made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale to Latvia of four (4) UH-60M Black Hawk Helicopters and related equipment for an estimated cost of $200 million (173 million euros)... The Defense Security Cooperation Agency delivered the required certification notifying Congress of this possible sale today," announced the Defense Security Cooperation Agency August 3 (see attached document). 

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 "The Government of Latvia has requested to buy four (4) UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters in standard USG configuration with designated unique equipment and Government Furnished Equipment (GFE), ten (10) T700-GE-701D engines (8 installed and 2 spares), ten (10) Embedded Global Positioning Systems/Inertial Navigation Systems (8 installed and 2 spares).  Also included is one (1) Aviation Mission Planning System, five (5) Talon Forward Looking Infrared Radar (FLIR) (4 production and 1 spare), ten (10) AN/ARC-201D/E (8 production and 2 spares), ten (10) AN/ARC-231 radios (8 production and 2 spares), five (5) AN/APX-123A Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) transponder (4 production and 1 spare), five (5) AN/ARC-220 Radio (4 production and 1 spare), twenty (20) AN/AVS-6 Helmet Mounted Night Vision Devices, aircraft warranty, air worthiness support, spare and repair parts, support equipment, communication equipment, publications and technical documentation, personnel training and training equipment, ground support equipment, site surveys, tool and test equipment, U.S. Government and contractor technical and logistics support services, and other related elements of logistics and program support.  The estimated total case value is $200 million," the announcement said.

According to the national budget, 576 million euros was allocated to defense spending in total in 2018 with 234 million euros earmarked for procurement. After significant increases in recent years to meet the NATO target of 2% of GDP spent on defense, defense spending is planned to remain at around the same level.

Therefore the Black Hawk purchase would represent a large chunk of the defense budget, though the purchase might also partially explain why Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs and others have recently hinted that further defense budget increases will be needed in coming years. 

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Even before the purchase, U.S. Black Hawks have become a relatively frequent sight in Latvian skies with several based at Lielvarde airbase where U.S troops are rotating for ongoing training, as reported by LSM.

"This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a NATO ally.  These UH-60 helicopters will allow for interoperability with U.S. and NATO forces in rapid response to a variety of missions, and quick positioning of troops with minimal helicopter assets," the U.S. authorities said, adding that 3 additional government personnel and 5 contractor personnel would need to be based in Latvia for a period of 2 to 5 years to see any contract to conclusion.

"The sale of these UH-60 helicopters to Latvia will significantly increase its capability to provide troop lift, border security, anti-terrorist, medical evacuation, search and rescue, re-supply/external lift, and combat support in all weather.  Latvia intends to use these helicopters to modernize its armed forces and expand its existing Army architecture in its efforts to provide multi-mission support in the region.  Latvia will have no difficulty absorbing these helicopters into its armed forces," the notification said.

Recent wildfires have exposed Latvia's lack of available helicopters for firefighting purposes, though no mention is made in the text of Black Hawks having such capability.

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